Exegesis or Eisegesis?

I imagine that just about everyone who reads here owns a Bible. Some may have a variety of Bible versions and translations. It is good to have a Bible in the home and to read it. It is even better to read it properly.

Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians agree that the Bible is the inspired written revelation of God to man, but we often disagree as to the meaning of key passages. How can this be? The differences in understanding have to do with the way we approach the Scriptures.

Some might argue; “How can that be a problem? All you do is open the Bible and start reading. The meaning of any passage is clear for all to see.” That this is not always is clear in the way Catholics and Christians understand Matthew 26:26-28:

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.--Matthew 26:26-28

The Evangelical Christian understands Christ's words in this passage to be figurative --the bread and wine symbolizing His substitutionary atoning sacrifice. Eating His flesh and drinking His blood is not some bizarre act of cannibalism; it is a metaphor for coming to Him and believing in Him.

The Roman Catholic Church, however, demands the assent of faith to the dogma of the Real Presence.

It's all about exegesis.

Exegesis is the careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning. This is basically a historical task. It is the attempt to hear the Word as the original recipients were to have heard it, to find out what was the original intent of the words of the Bible.--Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Academie Books (1982), p. 21

Everyone who reads the Bible is an exegete of sorts, but not everyone is good at it. There are two primary reasons why some do not do as well at exegesis as others are that they. The first is that they tend to only apply exegesis to passages that they consider to be in conflict with today's lifestyle with the result they often read their own thoughts into the text, thereby distorting God's original meaning.

The second reason has to do with the skills and background the exegete brings to the task. Many people lack detailed understanding of the cultural milieu in which the various books of the Bible were written, and they lack solid linguistic training in the three languages used in setting God's inspired words to the written form. So we seek the aid of experts when we encounter difficulties we are unable to resolve. The problem arises when we choose to consult inadequate, unqualified or dishonest experts. Fee and Stuart provide a glaring example of how making bad choices in this area can distort one's understanding of a passage.

…in Mark 10:23 (Matt. 19.23, Luke 18:24), at the conclusion of the story of the rich young man, Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” He then adds: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom.” It is often said that there was a gate in Jerusalem known as the “Needle's Eye,” which camels could go through only by kneeling and with great difficulty. The point of this “interpretation” is that a camel could in fact go through the “Needle's Eye.” The trouble with this “exegesis,” however, is that it is simply not true. There never was such a gate in Jerusalem at any time in its history. The earliest known “evidence” for that idea is found in the eleventh century (!), in a commentary by a Greek churchman named Theophylact, who had the same difficulty with the text that we do. After all, it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, and that was precisely Jesus' point. It is impossible for one who trusts in riches to enter the Kingdom. It takes a miracle for a rich person to get saved, which is quite the point of what follows: “All things are possible with God.”--Fee & Stuart, Op. cit., p. 22

Fee and Stuart tell us the key to good exegesis is “to learn to read the text carefully and to ask the right questions of the text.” (p. 23) The right questions usually have to do with context and content.

Understanding of the historical context in which the passage was written involves a variety of things such as the time and culture of both writer and those to whom he was writing and his reasons for writing. These things will vary from book to book. Understanding the literary context of a passage is the

crucial task in exegesis, and fortunately it is something one can do well without necessarily having to consult the “experts.” Essentially literary context means that words only have meaning in sentences, and for the most part biblical sentences only have meaning in relation to preceding and succeeding sentences.

The most important contextual question you will ever ask, and it must be asked over and over of every sentence and every paragraph is, “What's the point?”--Fee & Stuart, Op. cit., p. 24

Questions of content have to do with word definitions, sentence grammar and the choice of source documents from the many available. To answer these questions, most of us need to go to the books and a good exegetical commentary should be among those books. Bear in mind that appealing to a commentary should be the last thing done when examining a passage.

There's a lot more involved in exegesis, sound hermeneutics being a major one, but the foregoing should be sufficient to set the stage for what follows.

The Roman Catholic apologists I have dealt with simply cannot comprehend why evangelicals will not assent to the dogma of the Real Presence. They ask why “so many of you disbelieve Christ's very words when He said 'this is my body.... and this is my blood?' Like how much more biblical can you get than that?”

Such questions imply the one asking holds to a strictly literal interpretation of Scripture. Are all passages in Scripture to be understood at the face value? How then to interpret these passages from the 15th chapter of the Gospel of John?

1. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman."

5. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

6. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

Is Jesus a grapevine? Are believers branches on that vine and are the things we do grapes? Are the unsaved of the world shriveled up branches that are trimmed from the Jesus vine? Are unbelievers to be burned? Is God Almighty nothing more than a vineyard worker? Well, to hold to the same literal, face value hermeneutic Catholics apply to the Passover account in Luke 22, the answers to these questions must be a resounding “Yes!!” On the other hand, should the Catholic apologist argue that Jesus was using symbolism in this passage; I seek to discover his rationale for the distinction.

One Anglican (Catholicism Lite) spokesman answered with these words:

When He said 'do this in memory of me', what He was really saying if you look to the original Greek was 'do this to make effectively present in the here in now, that which is past.' In other words He was saying that when you bless the bread and cup, making it into my body and blood, and offer me, you make Calvary present at that very moment. This covers both the doctrine of Christ's 'real presence' and the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Actually, the passage is translated as:

And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.—Luke 22:19

In Nestle's Novum Testamentum Graece, 21st Edition, the literal translation of this passage would read:

And taking a loaf having given thanks he broke and gave it to them saying: this is the body of me – for you being given; this do ye for – my memorial.

World-renowned Greek scholar and professor of New Testament Interpretation A. T. Robertson wrote of this verse:

Which is given for you} (|to huper humôn didomenon|). Some MSS. omit these verses though probably genuine. The correct text in #1Co 11:24 has "which is for you," not "which is broken for you." It is curious to find the word "broken" here preserved and justified so often, even by Easton in his commentary on Luke, p. 320. {In remembrance of me} (|eis tên emên anamnêsin|). Objective use of the possessive pronoun |emên|, not the subjective. {This do} (|touto poieite|). Present active indicative, repetition, keep on doing this.

In His Expositor, John Gill wrote concerning this verse:

Ver. 19. And he took bread and gave thanks, &c.] Or blessed it, as in #Mt 26:26, Mr 14:22. Here begins the account of the Lord's supper after the passover was eaten;

and brake it, and gave unto them; the disciples, as is expressed in #Mt 26:26

saying, this is my body; see Gill on "Mt 26:26"

which is given for you; or will be given for you, as an offering for sin in your room and stead; and accordingly it was given into the hands of men, and of justice, and unto death. The phrase denotes the substitution and sacrifice of Christ in the room of his people, and the voluntariness of it; and is only mentioned by Luke in this account: the Apostle Paul writes, which is broken for you, #1Co 11:24 alluding to the breaking of the bread in the ordinance, and as expressing the bruises, wounds, sufferings, and death of Christ: the Ethiopic version here adds, "for the redemption of many".

This do in remembrance of me; that is, eat this bread in remembrance of my love to you, and in commemoration of my body being offered up for you. Observe this ordinance in the manner I now institute it, in time to come, in memory of what I am about to do for you; for this direction does not only regard the present time and action, but is intended as a rule to be observed by the churches of Christ in all ages, to his second coming: and it is to be observed, that the Lord's supper is not a reiteration, but a commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ. This phrase is only mentioned by Luke here, and by the Apostle Paul, who adds it also at the drinking of the cup, #1Co 11:24,25. The Persic version here reads, "do this perpetually in remembrance of me".

Christ's words as recorded in Luke 22:19 are a command. It is something to be done in remembrance of Him. However, this last supper with His apostles was not the first communion ever seen. Actually, the practice goes back many hundreds of years, to the time of the Exodus. At the Last Supper, Jesus was obeying His Father's commandment to keep the Passover forever. (Exodus 13:6-8) Christians today participate in the Lord's Supper to commemorate Christ's sacrifice that freed us from the chains of sin, even as Jews celebrate Passover in obedient remembrance of the Lord's delivering them from bondage in Egypt. Both celebrations commemorate a past event. They are memorials.

The apologist continued to press his case by appealing to the words of the Apostle Paul:

The Church Fathers and early Church taught and believed, and as the Holy Scriptures plainly say, believe in the real presence. That is as St. Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 10 saith, 'is not the cup of blessings a partaking of Christ's Body, and is not the bread we bless, a partaking of His Body?'

John MacArthur has this to say about 1 Corinthians 10:16:

10:16 cup of blessing. The proper name given to the third cup during the Passover Feast. At the last Passover with the disciples, Jesus used the third cup as the symbol of His blood shed for sin. That cup became the one used to institute the Lord's Supper. He set the cup apart as a token of salvation blessing before passing it to the communion. Means “to have in common, to participate and have partnership with.” The same Gr. word is used in 1:9; 2 Cor. 8:4; Phil. 2:1; 3:10. Commemorating the Lord's Supper was a regular and cherished practice in the early church, by which believers remembered their Savior's death and celebrated their common salvation and eternal life which reflected their perfect spiritual oneness. the blood of Christ. A vivid phrase used to represent Christ's sacrificial death and full atoning work. See Acts 20:28; Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:20; 1 Pet. 1:19; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5; 5:9. the bread. This symbolized our Lord's body as the cup symbolized His blood. Both point to His death as a sacrifice for the salvation of men.

The apologist continued:

In our catechism we say that the Lord's Supper as a sacrament contains two parts. The outer part being bread and wine, and the inner part being the "body and blood of Christ, which are verily and indeed given..." This can be found in any Book of Common Prayer.

How wonderful that his catechism teaches and apparently encourages spiritual cannibalism. I wonder: is he proud of this fact? Doesn't he know that, were Christ to have offered to the apostles, or anyone else, His real body and His real blood, he would have broken the Law of Moses, which clearly forbids the eating of human flesh or the blood? Can he seriously believe that Jesus, Who lived his life perfectly in accordance with the Law, would have commanded those who followed Him to violate the Law? Would that not have placed Jesus in direct opposition to His Father? Would not the Trinity have been a “house divided against itself?”

10 And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people.

11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.

12 Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.

13 And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust.

14 For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off. —Leviticus 17:10-14

In other words, to believe as he seemed to believe, in the “real presence” of Christ's body and blood in the pagan sacrifice at his altar, he is implicitly acknowledging that, in the Last Supper, Christ instituted an ordinance which was diametrically opposed to God's often repeated commands. That is heresy. No other word fits.

He continued:

In 1 Corinthians 11, St. Paul says the words of institution calling the blessed (consecrated) bread and wine Christ's Body and Blood, and telling the Corinthians present at that mass, that He it had been handed down to him by the Lord, and he was now handing it down to them (this is Sacred Tradition that St. Paul is talking about). Anyways, he continues by telling them that they must not eat unworthily of the Body and Blood, without RECOGNIZING OUR LORD"S BODY AND BLOOD!!

Let's look at the passage, in context.

24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.

27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. —1 Corinthians 11:24-29

The first thing I notice is the repeated statement in verses 24 and 25, “in remembrance of me.” Nothing there about “in continuation of my sacrifice” or “in repetition of my sacrifice.” Only in remembrance. Guess that the idea of a continuing of Christ's suffering and death on the cross must have its origins in that mythical land of sacred tradition so beloved of Catholics and, it would appear, Anglicans. I think it also worth noting that those apologists who argue for the “real presence” on the basis of a fanciful literal interpretation of Luke 22:19, seem to abandon that hermeneutical principle in their understanding of verse 20, which claims the new testament is in the blood within the cup. Can you see it? Is it written on paper, parchment or papyrus? Inquiring minds want to know

The next thing I notice is that, in verses 26, 27 and 28, the Apostle continues to refer to the bread as bread and the cup as a cup. He does not refer to them as either the body or the blood of Christ. Can there be a reason for that? Or is he now viewed as using symbology?

What about that terrible warning in verse 29? Robertson has this to say:

{If he discern not the body} (|mê diakrinôn to sôma|). So-called conditional use of the participle, "not judging the body." Thus he eats and drinks judgment (|krima|) on himself. The verb |dia-krinô| is an old and common word, our {dis-cri-minate}, to distinguish. Eating the bread and drinking the wine as symbols of the Lord's body and blood in death probes one's heart to the very depths.

In Barnes Notes on 1 Corinthians, I read:

For he that eateth, & etc. In order to excite them to a deeper reverence for this ordinance, and to a more solemn mode of observing it, Paul in this verse states another consequence of partaking of it in an improper and irreverent manner; comp. ver. 27.

Eatheth and drinketh damnation. This is evidently a figurative expression, meaning that by eating and drinking improperly he incurs condemnation; which is here expressed by eating and drinking condemnation itself. The word damnation we now apply, in common language, exclusively to the future and final punishment of the wicked in hell. But the word here used does not of necessity refer to that; and according to our use of the word now, there is a harshness and severity in our translation which the Greek does not require, and which probably was not conveyed by the word "damnation" when the translation was made. In the margin it is correctly rendered "judgment." The word here used (krima) properly denotes judgment; the result of judging, that is, a sentence; then a sentence by which one is condemned, or condemnation; and then punishment; see Rom. 3:8; 13:2. It has evidently the sense of judgment here; and means, that by their improer manner of observing this ordinance, they would expose themselves to the divine displeasure, and to punishment. And it refers, I think, to the punishment or judgment which the apostle immediately specifies, ver. 30,32. It means a manifestation of the divine displeasure which might be evinced in this life; and which, in the case of the Corinthians, was manifested in the judgments which God had brought upon them. It cannot be denied, however, that a profane and intentionally irreverent manner of observing the Lord's supper will meet with the divine displeasure in the eternal world, and aggravate the doom of those who are guilty of it. But it is clear that this was not the punishment which the apostle had here in his eye. This is apparent, (1) Because the Corinthians did eat unworthily, and yet the judgments inflicted on them were only temporal, that is, weakness, sickness, and temporal death (ver. 30); and, (2) Because the reason assigned for these judgments is, that they might not be condemned with the wicked; i.e. as the wicked are in hell ver. 32. Whitby. Comp. 1 Pet. 4:17. # Rom 3:8 13:2 1Pe 4:17

Not discerning the Lord's body. Not discriminating (may diakrinon) between the bread which is used on this occasion and common and ordinary food. Not making the proper difference and distinction between this and common meals. It is evident that this was the leading offence of the Corinthians (see Notes, ver. 20,21), and this is the proper idea which the original conveys. It does not refer to any intellectual or physical power to perceive that that bread represented the body of the Lord; not to any spiritual perception which it is often supposed that piety has to distinguish this; not to any view which faith may be supposed to have to discern the body of the Lord through the elements; but to the fact that they did not distinguish or discriminate between this and common meals. They did not regard it in a proper manner, but supposed it to be simply an historical commemoration of an event, such as they were in the habit of observing in honour of an idol or a hero by a public celebration. They, therefore, are able to "discern the Lord's body" in the sense intended here, who with a serious mind, regard it as an institution appointed by the Lord Jesus to commemorate his death; and who distinguish thus between this and ordinary meals and all festivals and feasts designed to commemorate other events. In other words, who deem it to be designed to show forth the fact that his body was broken for sin, and who desire to observe it as such. It is evident that all true Christians may have ability of this kind, and need not incur condemnation by any error in regard to this. The humblest and obscurest follower of the Saviour, with the feeblest faith and love, may regard it as designed to set forth the death of his Redeemer; and observing it thus, will meet with the divine approbation.

Those who subscribe to the fantasy of the Real presence don't give up easily. The apologist continued:

Lets see, if it was just a symbol and mere bread and wine with nothing supernatural about it, why does He say they would be blaspheming the body and blood of Our Lord. He also goes on to continue, that many people had gotten sick and died for unworthily eating The Lord's Body and Blood. Can an ordinary peace of bread do that? Of course not. St. Paul made it very clear that this was no cracker, but was the real thing.

He did? In order to accept that, am I required to accept the infallibility of the Magisterium? I acknowledge that, to the Roman Catholic, it is a matter of fides catolica, obligatory faith, that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ are present in the sacrament of Communion. Given this point of faith, then it seems but a short step to add that the communion wafer is to be displayed and worshipped, with latria, even as God is worshipped. To not believe this is to run afoul of the canons of Catholicism, as exemplified by these citations from the Thirteenth Session of the Council of Trent:

If anyone shall deny that in the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ, but shall say that he is in it only as in a sign, or figure or force -- anathema sit. --The General Council of Trent, Session XIII (1551): DS 1651

There is, therefore, no room for doubt that all the faithful of Christ may, in accordance with a custom always received in the Catholic Church, give to this most holy sacrament in veneration the worship of latria, which is due to the true God. --The General Council of Trent, Session XIII (1551): DS 1643

If anyone shall say that in the holy sacrament of the Eucharist Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is not to be adored with the worship of latria, also outwardly manifested, and is consequently neither to be venerated with a special festive solemnity not to be solemnly borne about in procession according to the laudable and universal rite and custom of the Holy Church, or is not to be set publicly before the people to be adored and that the adorers thereof are idolaters -- anathema sit --The General Council of Trent, Session XIII (1551): DS 1656

Well, I reckon that settles it. The cracker is Christ because the fallible men of the infallible general council of Trent has infallibly declared it to be infallibly true. I am infallibly flabbergasted.

like that drum-beating bunny, he keeps on keeping on:

If you look at the Church Fathers, many of whom had been disciples of the Apostles, and trained in their theology by them, they ALL, without any exceptions to the rule, taught that the consecrated elements became His actual body and blood.

Good grief!!! How ever could I have doubted? Not only has the infallibly infallible Magisterium issued an infallible finding on the matter, but now I am told, sans citations, that ALL the early church fathers supported this view. Well, this is a democracy, after all. Majority rules. Sound doctrine is built on popular vote. I reckon the Bible is out and the Magisterium and universal opinion of a bunch of dead guys is what determines sound doctrine.

At this point, the apologist shifted into teaching mode:

Before I go on, lets go on to a proper definition of what the doctrine of the real presence is and is not. It is not a sensible, gross, or gory presence. The presence of Christ does not overthrow the nature of the sacrament, for although Christ is truly present, and we literally partake of Him, the visible signs of bread and wine remain in their natural state, with their full texture. The change is not a material change, but a spiritual or metaphysical change. Remember there is two parts to a sacrament. An inner and outer part. The outer part of the Eucharist, that what you can see, touch, feel, and smell, is bread and wine. The inner part, that which is invisible, is Christ, whom is truly present in the fullness of His humanity and divinity. Although our senses cannot detect Him, our spirit can. After all the Eucharist is food for the soul, not food for the flesh.

I just gotta know. At what point does the cookie and the wine cease to be the body and blood and soul and divinity of Christ and just become digesting (or digested food)? Is there another mystical moment when the ingested cookie and the wine are no longer to be venerated with the worship of latria? I mean, we all KNOW how ingested food and drink are dealt with in the human body. If what entered the mouth of the communicant in the Eucharistic sacrament was the real presence of Christ, what was eliminated from the body? Do not believe me to be joking here. I seriously and honestly would like to know how the Catholic (and the Anglican) deals with the real presence in the alimentary canal. What, specifically, is the Catholic doctrine on this?

It had to happen. He dragged out that Catholic shibboleth that is so wearying: "he is what martin Luther believed."

And before I end here, Martin Luther believed in the real presence, and he rebuked Zwingli and the Sacramentarians whom like yourselves taught the doctrine of Christ's "Real Absence", and made it into a mere symbol or token of faith. To this day in faithfulness to their leaders teachings, the real presence is still a Lutheran article of faith. Lutherans call their belief in the real presence, Consubstantiation, which is that Christ is present in, with, and under, the natural substance of the bread and wine, following the blessing or consecration. Roman Catholics, as everyone knows calls it Transubstantiation, which works out to the same thing Luther taught, the only difference being that what Luther calls substance, Roman Catholics call the accidents

Like, who really cares what Martin Luther believed? I am not a Lutheran. These guys sure do like to raise the specter of Luther and Calvin in support of some of their off the wall declarations. They appear not to understand that the Christian sees Holy Scripture as his source document on matters divine. Martin Luther and Calvin and the Wesleys and John Knox, etc., played their part in Church history, but they were not the originators of sound doctrine. They may have codified what God provided in Scriptures – and that not always accurately – but they were only men. Men like those puffed up “princes of the Church” who like to put on their best gowns to gather in general assembly and call themselves infallible.

He closes with what he must have considered to be a real zinger:

We Anglicans to avoid confusion and to simply take it at the face value of Christ's own words, we believe it is His flesh, and it is His blood, PERIOD!

Face value? Then, continuing to view Scripture at “face value”, they must see Jesus Christ as a grapevine (John 15:5);. Or perhaps as a door (John 10:9). Clearly, they don't see the inconsistency and dishonesty of applying the “hermeneutic” which serves their purpose in one case, then applying a different hermeneutic in another situation?


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